Sociology, as you probably know, is consistently one of the most popular A-level subjects even though it’s competing for student time with subjects that are, with a couple of exceptions like Psychology and Business Studies, taught throughout secondary schooling.
However you choose to frame the success of Sociology in attracting students, one of its more troubling aspects is that it’s driven by a substantial body of teachers who find themselves – particularly in the school sector – as Doo’ers and / or SaSSies.
Doo’ers are those who teach Sociology in a “Department of One”, while SaSSies teach “Sociology as Second Subject” – a catchall category that includes, at one extreme, teachers who hold a degree in a subject that has some overlap with Sociology, such as Psychology or Geography, and at the other those having to pick-up A-level Sociology from scratch.
Sometimes, of course, SaSSies are also Doo’ers (and vice versa). And ss someone who’s experienced “Second Subject Syndrome” I can honestly say it can be a pretty stressful experience.
Although the conditions that have combined to create these – and similar – situations are unlikely to disappear any time soon, this doesn’t mean nothing can be done to help Sociology teachers who find themselves needing assistance: from the simple reassurance that “you’re doing things right” to more-extensive help with things like planning, resourcing and teaching.
This is where the concept of Video Mentoring comes into play.
If we leave to one side the actual mechanics of online teaching, many teachers have probably found that actually setting-up and using video conferencing software such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams isn’t particularly difficult or daunting. And the suggestion here is that once enough are familiar with its use, it can play an important role in connecting teachers as a way of exchanging ideas, information and, if necessary, reassurance.
Some of you will already be familiar with things like online TeachMeets and Video Mentoring simply extends and solidifies this basic idea: established and experienced Sociology teachers lend their expertise to those who might be struggling to run a Department of One or who may need help and guidance in teaching a subject that may be neither familiar nor easy to grasp.
In terms of nuts-and-bolts, Video Mentoring is extremely simple using something like Zoom. It might, for example, involve an experienced teacher volunteering to meet virtually with a group of inexperienced teachers once a month, every couple of months or whatever suits the participants best. The general objective would be for an experienced teacher to provide support for their inexperienced peers, although the precise nature of that support is something a group would have to decide among themselves. It might, for example, involve help and guidance with dealing with exam boards, how to set and mark different types of homework and so forth. Additionally, the mentored group could develop into a forum for exchanging resources.
Ideally each mentoring meetup would be relatively short – not even the most-dedicated and well-intentioned teacher wants to spend hours each month on mentoring – and evolve into a self-supporting group where the initial role of the Mentor would be gradually reduced.
You may, at this point, be thinking this sounds all-well-and-good, but an obvious logistical problem with setting-up mentoring groups is how the potential group members make contact with one another?
In an ideal world this might be something British Sociological Association would be able to organise (you could always suggest it to them…), but I’m not sure they have the resources (or, maybe, even the inclination). A more-viable way to set-up Video Mentoring Groups would be through existing Facebook groups – a simple forum where potential Mentors could volunteer for the role and be easily contacted by potential Mentees (not sure if that’s a word. But it is now).
UK Facebook Groups for different Exam Boards: these are all private groups so you need to ask to join.
AQA: Sociology Teachers
OCR: Sociology A Level For OCR Specification
Edugas: Eduqas sociology teachers
WJEC: Sociology WJEC Eduqas/ Cymdeithaseg CBAC Teacher Network
These, as you might appreciate, are just a few intitial, not particualrly well thought-through, ideas about how we could use video conferencing and mentoring to bring UK Sociology Teachers together in a supportive and inclusive way.
I‘m hoping others may be able to develop – and maybe even realise – these ideas…